On March 16, the last day that the Methow Valley School District was open for on-site learning for students, I picked up my kids after school. The parking lot was more vacant than usual, as many families kept their kids home that day, after hearing the governor’s decision about school closures three days prior.
As I was waiting for my kids to come out from the building, I saw half-empty school buses pulling out from the back parking lot. Suddenly some teachers came running out of the school and lined up along the grass, waving and calling out “good-bye!” as students leaned out the open windows of the buses.
I’ve always been charmed by this last-day waving tradition. I don’t know if it happens at other schools; it probably does. It probably happened when I was growing up, and I just don’t remember it. But I was never aware of it until my oldest daughter’s first last day of school at Methow Valley Elementary School and I almost cried witnessing the waving. It was as if I could see the next 12 years of her schooling fly by, until one day that would come far too soon, she’d be a senior, and it would be the last time she’d be waved goodbye by her teachers. They don’t do that at college.
When the teachers lined up for the goodbye wave on March 16, at first I laughed, thinking how overly dramatic it was. We’d be back in school six weeks later, right? But immediately after that it struck me as sweet. And now, of course, it is a poignant memory. The teachers waved goodbye, as if it were the last day of school, which indeed it turned out to be.
Last Friday night, I joined a bunch of neighbors along Twin Lakes Road to wave to the graduation procession as it made its way to the school. It was a more profound experience than I expected, in several ways. First of all, there were the seniors, many of whom I have known since they were toddlers. And there they were in their cars or in the backs of pickup trucks, gamely participating in a graduation radically different from the one they had envisioned, gamely facing whatever early adulthood in a global pandemic looks like. So we waved to salute the seniors.
But then there were all these parents in the procession and lining the road — my friends and acquaintances. We’ve decorated for Little Star auctions together, clicked stopwatches at swim meets together, raked the soccer field, run the cash registers at book fairs, and chaperoned field trips. And most of us haven’t really seen each other in months. So we waved to greet friends.
And then there were other familiar faces in the procession, school bus drivers, Aero Methow Rescue Service staff, law enforcement, firefighters — another whole cache of friendly folks who keep this valley humming along. We’re not out and about as much as usual, and we just don’t see the range of people we would typically see. So we waved to celebrate our community.
With our smiles obscured and our voices stifled by the masks we wear in public these days, sometimes it feels like waving is the only thing we have left. So we wave wildly, to say “I see you, I know you, and I miss you.”